I’m getting (re-)married next week, and I’ve been looking for inspiration in the vow department. When I was a pastor, I virtually disallowed couples to use self-written vows in ceremonies that I was officiating. The reason: they were entering into a covenant that has been entered into billions of times by billions of people. They weren’t making this up — singing solo — but were instead joining a chorus of people who’d done this before. Further, a recitation of traditional vows gave every married person in the congregation the chance to squeeze their spouse’s hand and, in a way, renew their own vows.
But as a divorced person, I cannot avoid the fact that, though I truly meant “until death do us part” back in 1997, by 2008 that commitment had unraveled. So I, and other divorced persons, are left with a quandary:
- Re-enter the institution of marriage using the same vows, knowing that it didn’t work out last time, but vowing that it will this time. Or,
- Come up with new vows, but without hedging your bets about whether it will work out this time.
I’ve been poking around the internet, looking for something that will get my attention, something that someone else has written that seems to be relatively traditional, yet nod to the fact that anyone who is remarrying after divorce isn’t exactly traditional. A few, of course, are rejected out-of-hand:
_____, we read in Genesis, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife,” and in Proverbs “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing.” He has ordained that the husband be the head of the wife. He instructs me, as the one who will be your husband, to love you as Christ loves the Church. It is my desire and delight to follow this scriptural teaching. With all my heart, I make this pledge to you.
______, the Lord instructs me as the one who will be your wife to submit to you as unto Him. Our Father created woman to be man’s helper. It is my desire and delight to follow this scriptural teaching. With all my heart I make this pledge to you.
Others make me throw up a little in my mouth:
I am proud to marry you this day, (Name). I promise to wipe away your tears with my laughter, and your pain with my caring and my compassion. We will wipe out the old canvases of our lives, and let [God, with His amazing artistic talent], fill them with new color, harmony and beauty. I give myself to you completely, and I promise to love you always, from this day forth.
I’ve decided that I will write our vows myself. I risk the cheese-factor, but I will do all in my power to avoid that. And I will keep in mind what I learned years ago, when I read JL Austin’s brilliant book: Vows are performative utterances; they are words that do things.